Commentary: Promote positive / WPDI identifies region's needs
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More than 50 Pittsburgh companies that are dedicated to building diverse and inclusive work environments for their employees are members of the Western Pennsylvania Diversity Initiative. These diversity and inclusion leaders come together through educational programs and networking forums to learn from one another and share best practices.
Most recently, WPDI hosted a program on Social Media and Diversity with more than 60 local diversity and inclusion professionals in attendance. Other topics covered in 2011 programming include Multicultural Communication, Riveting Diversity and Diversity Best Practices in the Workplace. In addition, WPDI maintains a jobs website where members post their open positions and candidates can view them.
Over the past few years, WPDI has collaborated with educational institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University on studies to better understand the economic impact diversity has on the region and is working toward future collaboration with other organizations that are dedicated to diversity and inclusion.
Ultimately, WPDI seeks to promote economic development in Western Pennsylvania through positive diversity and inclusion practices within regional businesses.
Based on feedback from WPDI members, the following are some of the trends and challenges Pittsburgh employers currently face:
• Diversity recruiting -- Companies need to increase their budgets allocated for diversity recruiters to attend networking events and get out into the community. Because of recent budget cuts, diversity recruiting is currently occurring primarily through electronic means, which does not produce the best pool of candidates.
• Workplace Inclusiveness -- There is a movement toward focusing more on making sure everyone in the workplace has a feeling of belonging. Historically, Pittsburgh companies have faced challenges in retaining diverse employees because of "unwelcoming" workplace environments.
• Disabled Workers and Returning Veterans -- WPDI members report a trend towards initiatives to hire people with disabilities and returning veterans. There are many community and national agencies with which businesses can partner to assist with recruiting the right candidates.
• Generational Diversity -- Allegheny County ranks second in the nation in the number of seniors. With the recent national economic downturn, people are retiring later, thus leading to more seniors in the workforce. Additionally, with the large number of quality educational institutions in the Pittsburgh region, employers have a tremendous pool of young professional talent to recruit. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important for business to find ways to integrate all generations into an inclusive work environment.
• English as a second language -- Pittsburgh has a higher percentage of individuals who are bilingual in Russian and Chinese than in any other language. Global companies who do business in those parts of the world may want to take advantage of that pool of diverse resources.
The dictionary defines diversity using such terms as "difference," "unlikeness" and "variety." This definition challenges us to consider anything that might bring an element of variety to our workplace when formulating diversity initiatives.
When we think of diversity in the workplace, we must go beyond the color of a person's skin or the language they speak. We must stretch our thinking to include as much variety in terms of our employees as possible. That means hiring people with disabilities, employees spanning all generations, high school graduates all the way on up to Ph.D.'s. We must recruit both men and women, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender individuals, those with varying political and religious views, financial wizards, marketing gurus and scientific myth-busters -- the list goes on.
However, recruiting employees with diverse backgrounds, world views and areas of expertise is only half the battle. Once they are recruited, we need to retain them. The key to doing this is through inclusion. Building an inclusive workplace is by far the best way to build and retain a diverse workforce. It can also be one of the most challenging.
Simply stated, inclusion is "a practice of ensuring that people in organizations feel they belong," according to Wikipedia. Who would have thought that Grandma's old "do unto others" philosophy would have such a profound impact on today's business world? Nonetheless, it is the premise on which companies must build their cultures if they are to succeed in their quest for diversity and inclusion.
Businesses must build an environment where everyone feels respected and valued for the differences they bring to the workplace. People at all levels of the organization need to be educated on what it means to be part of an inclusive workplace and need to understand the company's commitment to supporting an inclusive work environment. It must be clear that diversity is not just about how the company looks, but how people treat each other on both a personal and professional level -- always with respect and dignity.
So, where is your company in its quest for diversity? Is inclusion part of the equation? How do you go about unearthing the best candidates? What do you do with them once they are hired? Do you have a network of other diversity/inclusion professionals to tap into when you need help?
First Published October 27, 2011 12:00 am